Reviewed: June 17, 2009
Released: June 2, 2009
Given the enormous success of the previous two incarnations of The Sims, itís no wonder that expectations for the eagerly awaited Sims 3 are sky high. After all, the improvement in the series was dramatic between the first and second Sims games: the unchanging, never-aging Sims of the original game were given growth stages, life spans, and genetic traits that they could pass on to offspring. The simplistic, isometric-view 3D graphics gave way to a much more lifelike and vibrant visual style, and the new adjustable camera allowed players to view their virtual households from just about any angle and to zoom in close enough to see the wiring behind the TV sets.
Even with that tall order to fill, though, The Sims 3 does a valiant job of taking up where the Sims 2 left off, most notably by opening up gameplay to a seamlessly integrated neighborhood and providing powerful new tools for customizing the Simsí appearances, clothing, houses, and furniture, down to the very pattern and color of their bedspreads. All told, while the seriesí groundbreaking reputation would seem to demand a bigger jump than The Sims 3 actually makes, where it does take the leap, it lands beautifully.
Because of the seriesí wild popularity among gamers and less hardcore players alike, chances are, most of you reading this article already know what the series is all about. For the benefit of the uninitiated, however: The Sims is a series of games simulating modern human life, revolving around the experiences of virtual people known as Sims. Each Sim is motivated by biological needs, such as hunger, bladder, energy, social, hygiene, and fun, as well as a chosen personality. As of The Sims 2, the Sims gather experiences as they grow from babies to toddlers, teens, young adults, adults, and elders; and they can build relationships, raise their families, pass on their genes, and eventually pass away.
The basic mechanic may sound pretty simple, but youíd be surprised how much life these few variables breathe into the Sims, giving them personal goals, freewill behaviors, and foibles that can be surprisingly lifelike and entertaining to watch. Whether you enjoy leading your Sims to career success, enacting your very own Sim soap opera, or cruelly torturing your Sims by refusing them toilet access, the open-ended freedom of the Sims offers a lot of amusing possibilities with diverse appeal.
Itís true that The Sims 3 offers a lot more of the same, and in this case, thatís a compliment, not a critique. This latest game, in fact, keeps many of the best features of The Sims 2 and its multitude of expansions. To name a few: Sims grow and age (though players are given the option of turning aging off, if they prefer) and pass on their DNA to offspring, they can own and drive cars (The Sims 2: Nightlife), grow produce in their gardens and go fishing (The Sims 2: Seasons), keep items in a personal inventory (The Sims 2: Open For Business), and call other Sims or take photos anytime and anywhere they like with their mobile phones (The Sims 2: Bon Voyage). It doesnít leave off at that, though; Sims 3 takes these solid concepts, adds highly anticipated new features like the open world previously promised in the cancelled SimsVille project, and reshapes the game into something with new vitality.
The new seamless neighborhood is, hands down, the most obvious and significant improvement. In the past Sims games, players would spend most of their game time staring at their active Sim householdís home, waiting sometimes obnoxiously long load times to occasionally visit a community lot or a downtown shopping area just to buy a pair of pajamas or groceries. Iím happy to report that that hassle is now a relic of the past.
In Sims 3, the entire town is open to you, and the game experience feels much more lifelike for it. Simultaneously, you can have one household Sim walk to the park to have a picnic with a friend, while another goes to the bookstore to pick up a new recipe Ė and youíll see NPC Sims moseying around town taking care of business, too. Your Sims can drive, bike, walk, run, jog, or take public transportation to work, call on a neighbor, or go to the store Ė and you can jump from place to place in town to spy on various Sims without too much lag, even on a mediocre gaming system like mine. Frankly, Iím impressed and pleased that The Sims 3 Ė even with the extra load of its seamless, open neighborhood Ė seems to run as smoothly as, or perhaps even smoother than, The Sims 2 ran on the same computer.
Another laudable improvement is the new Create A Style tool. Just about everything Ė from your Sims themselves to their furniture, wallpaper, and architecture Ė can be easily customized right within the game. Want to create a blue-skinned, sheep-print bikini-clad Sim with purple hair tipped with turquoise highlights? You can do it. From hair and eyes and clothing to couches and kitchen sinks and cars, you can now color and texture most things to your liking without opening Photoshop and spending hours modifying it by hand or importing it into your game. Though there doesnít seem to be any official support for custom meshes or textures as of the time of this writing, the game does include a satisfying array of textures to choose from, each of which can be adjusted to whatever colors you like.
Your Simsí personalities are now also more customizable and distinct. Instead of distributing neatness or niceness points like in the first two Sims games, you now pick up to five of over 60 different personality traits for each Sim. You can, for instance, create an Athletic, Bookworm, Neat, and Neurotic Sim: a nerdy beefcake that enjoys cleaning and freaks out when the old newspapers pile up outside. You could also make a Brave, Daredevil, Vegetarian Sim that busts robbers before the cops arrive and sticks her hands in the fireplace for fun but gets sick if she eats anything containing meat. There are a huge number of unique combinations possible, producing a diverse number of possible life goals and personal idiosyncrasies for a greater variety of behaviors and interactions. Social interactions are also more streamlined and varied in this new title, allowing the player to direct the conversation topics and get a feel of how the other Sim is reacting.
Thereís many more new features that would excite Sims fans, such as the ability to place furniture at 45-degree angles or on half tiles, better path-finding algorithms, and additional choices for certain activities (such as whether a Sim should slack off or work hard at her job on a particular day, or whether she should work out hardcore or exercise lightly without breaking a sweat). Sims 3 also focuses less on your Simsí physical needs, leaving you to focus on other interesting things, like completing Opportunities (quests with rewards for completion) for other Sims in town. I canít list them all here, but there are a lot of features introduced in Sims 3 that will make you wonder how you ever played The Sims without them. Itís just more icing on the cake that the game also comes with built-in video editing software so that itís easier than ever to create your own Sims movies to share online.
Despite all the wonderful aspects of the game, though, there are still some areas that I was surprised didnít receive the overhaul Iíd have expected. For instance, the game doesnít quite take full advantage of the open neighborhood. Though you can now see the buildings where your Sims work and even select how your Sims work on a given day, you canít actually follow them to work and take part in their lives during work hours. The same goes for when your Sim attends a show, goes to a ballgame, or delivers a report to the city hall. While itís just a minor complaint, I canít help but think that having Sims disappear into a building somewhere in town for a few hours is only a marginal step up from having him vanish from the house lot for some time as per The Sims and The Sims 2.
Additionally, browsing and downloading online content could have been integrated more smoothly into the game, especially given that a large part of the Sims experience includes downloading official and user-created content, and that EA opened an online store specifically for selling Sims 3 game objects to players. In-game browsing would have been much more convenient, but Sims 3 instead still seems to rely on using a web browser or the game launcher outside of the game itself to browse the store and user-created content on the Sims 3 Exchange.
With that being said, some of these issues may be resolved in an upcoming expansion or patch. Knowing the seriesí productive history, Iím sure it wonít be long before we see the first add-on for the new generation of Sims.
Though the graphics quality isnít that dramatically different from that of The Sims 2, the Simsí physical features have been smoothed out to somewhat more realistic curves while still maintaining the expressive, somewhat caricatured look weíve come to associate with the Sims franchise. Thereís also a great amount of improvement when it comes to Sim body types, the separate sliders for muscularity and fatness providing a variety of convincing builds.
Elaborate texturing on the furniture and architecture is at least as meticulous as before, and a lot of thought was put into the plants swaying in the outdoor breeze, sunlight pooling on the floors through windows, and fluid character animations. And, even though you canít follow your Sims into the interior of some public buildings (such as the city hall, theater, or the local stadium), the little details like bookshelves or desks can still be seen through the windows. I found myself admiring the amount of care that went into building every aspect of the Simsí detailed virtual world.
Best of all, the graphics seem to scale surprisingly well. Naturally, they look fantastic on a high-end machine, but even on my slightly dated system, the graphics are still pretty crisp at a lower video resolution, and the game runs at least as well as The Sims 2 did.
Perhaps the Sims 3 soundtrack isnít necessarily the type of music that Iíd rush to download to my MP3 player, but its warmly pleasant tracks, recorded with a real orchestra and boyís choir, definitely have a comfortable charm. Combining the whimsically retro 50ís infomercial feel of the original Sims soundtrack, jaunty tunes from The Sims 2, and an echo of SimCityís themes, the Sims 3 has all new music that nevertheless exudes the homey feel associated with the series. Thatís not to mention the various classical pieces and amusing Simlish versions of songs that play on the Simsí sound systems when theyíre switched on.
Speaking of which, the Simsí endearing Simlish nonsense speech is also back, and each Sim can now have one of several selectable voices, each adjustable in pitch for that added level of customizability. The sound effects are a combination of new and familiar that creates a believable aural palette for the town, changing subtly to reflect the nearby environment as you pass over specific areas, like the sports stadium or the park.
At $49.99, The Sims 3 standard edition retails for an orthodox price and can keep a player glued to the computer screen for hours at a time. The Collectorís Edition is available for an extra 20 bucks and includes a nifty 2GB Sims plumbob USB stick with a matching carabiner, an exclusive European car game object download, $10 worth of SimPoints (1000 SimPoints as of the time of writing) to spend at the online store, new Sims 3 theme music, and a tips and hints guide. The last two listed exclusives probably donít really count, especially since the tips and hints guide is just a little 4-page booklet inserted in the DVD case with the manual, but the USB key is pretty rad, and the SimPoints and in-game car are a nice bonus.
One thing I noted is that The Sims 3ís selection of hairstyles and objects seems to be just a tad more limited than in previous games. (To my disappointment, they didnít even include a piano this time!) A reason for this might be to add incentive to shop at EAís new online micro transaction store, which allows players to buy additional official content for SimPoints, which are purchased with real money.
Despite micro transactions being a Web 2.0 staple these days, the decision to sell so much readymade official content via the store instead of releasing them free of charge to registered users who already bought the game just seems a little bit like money grubbing, especially since Maxis used to regularly give out so many free official items to the Sims community. Still, buying the additional content is wholly up to the user, and it doesnít detract too terribly from my enjoyment of the game. Maybe the upcoming expansions will help fill in those empty spots.
I wouldnít hesitate in naming The Sims 3 the latest and greatest in the series. If you loved the previous games, you definitely wouldnít want to miss out on this one. I canít say whether this game would change the minds of those who havenít yet warmed up to the Sims, but despite its minor shortfalls, The Sims 3 is a strong start to what I expect will be yet another long line of enjoyable expansions, user-made content, and happy Simming.